Inle Lake sits in the cool, green highlands of Shan State about 884 metres above sea level. The lake creates a wetland environment prolific with bird life. There are hot springs in this area of outstanding natural beauty. The Inthas and other ethnic groups are indigenous to the surrounding fertile valleys and forested mountains are devout Buddhists, a legacy of which are more than 100 monasteries and a thousand pagodas lining the shore of the lake. The Inle Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival is one of the most famous pagoda festivals in Myanmar and features boat racing competitions, ceremonial dances and martial arts. Inle Lake can be explored by boat or traditional canoes. Trekking is also popular in the surrounding hills.
Inle Lake area is renowned for its distinctive leg rowers, its floating gardens and a weaving industry known for its high-quality, hand-woven silk fabrics of exclusive designs. An elegant, expensive fabric known as “Kya Thingahn” produced uniquely at Inle Lake is woven from the fibres of lotus plants.
Around Inle Lake:
This peaceful town in pine-clad mountains sits on the western edge of the Shan plateau at 1320 metres above sea level. A former British hill station, the town is a mix of colonial and wooden Shan-style houses. Kalaw has a diverse population, including Shan and Myanmar, as well as people of Nepalese and Indian descent. The surrounding countryside with its minority villages set amid gnarled pines and bamboo groves offers fascinating trekking experiences.
Pindaya lies at an altitude of 1,200 meters and is surrounded by hilltribe villages settled by members of the Danu, Thaungyoe, Pa-O, Palaung and Shan races. Nearby attractions include a natural limestone cave where thousands of Buddha images have been consecrated for worship over the centuries, and the picturesque Boutaloke Lake set amongst huge, old trees. Pindaya is known for its workshops that produce Shan paper and monks’ umbrellas. It also hosts a shifting fifth day market where home grown produce is traded.
Taunggyi, at an altitude of 1,430 metres, is the administrative capital of Shan State and is also on one of the main trade routes to China. In addition to the indigenous Pao-O, Intha and other ethnic minorities, it has a large Shan and Myanmar population, as well as Gurkhas, Chinese and Myanmar Muslims. There is a museum in town dedicated to Shan culture, at which the exhibits include the belongings of the Shan princes, or sawbwas. Nearby, the Ayetharyar Vineyard is famous for its wine production and is also a great venue to enjoy a sunset dinner with breathtaking views over the Shan mountains. The most significant festival in Taunggyi is the annual Tazaungdine Lighting Festival (October/November) of which a feature is hot air balloon contests. Balloons displayed during the day are usually in the form of pagodas, animals such as elephants and ducks, or mythical creatures such as dragons. After dark the balloons are usually in the shape of elongated balls with small multi-coloured lanterns hung from their sides.
Kakku Pagoda Complex
About 53 kilometers from Taunggyi in the territory of the Pa-O people is the Kakku Pagoda complex, where a 2,000 year-old pagoda is surrounded by the stunning sight of 2,478 stupas. A wonderful example of spiritual devotion, the pagoda is a centre of worship for the Pa-O. The Kakku Pagoda Festival falls on the fullmoon of Tabaung (mid-March) and attracts thousands of visitors from all parts of the Shan State. During the festival, the Pa-O people pay homage at the pagoda in their finest traditional costumes.